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Why I Was in the Navy During the Vietnam War

Paul served in the U.S. Navy 1967–1971. He was stationed in Illinois, California, Texas, and on bases in Taiwan, Japan, and Maryland.

American Soldiers in the Vietnam War


Being in The U.S. Navy

Joining the U.S. Navy introduced me to the real world and changed my direction in life. While I was in my final year of college, military service was the last thing on my mind. Little did I realize at that time that within two years I would be beginning Navy recruit basic training. In this article, I explain my motives for going into the U.S. Navy in 1967.

Why I Enlisted in The U.S. Military

I guess you would call it not wanting to face reality or being very naïve. When I was a college senior in 1965 and 1966, I was so sure of getting admitted into a medical school that I didn't take a draft exemption test that many of my senior classmates were taking. At that time, the U.S. still had a draft, and young men aged 18 without exemptions were liable for conscription into the U.S. Army. It was a scary thought about going into the Army because the Vietnam War was escalating and most of the soldiers being sent for combat in South Vietnamese jungles were young draftees.

In June of 1966, I took a pre-induction physical exam at the Selective Service System Center in my home county, Elkhorn, in Wisconsin. Still, I had pipe dreams about avoiding military service, even though I had not been accepted into any medical schools. I had, however, been accepted into the University of Michigan for graduate work in chemistry.

After starting my graduate work in Ann Arbor in August, I vividly remember receiving my military induction notice in November of 1966. It was enclosed in a letter from my mother. First, I read the letter from ma which began by saying, "Paulie, I hate to be sending you bad news." Next, I opened the induction notice which began, "Greetings from the President of the United States. You are ordered to report for active military duty with the U.S. Army ........." The rest of the induction notice briefly stated that I was to report to a certain Army base for basic military training about one week before Christmas. After reading the notice, reality hit home, and it was like being punched in the mouth.

My first reaction was to get drunk and drown my fear. I then called some people on campus who advised students like me with draft induction notices. I recall one young lady telling me to point blankly that I should dodge the draft by fleeing to Canada. After briefly considering it, I decided it would be a slap in the face to my uncles who served so proudly in the Army during World War II and the Korean War. I also wasn't too keen on being a fugitive from justice.

The soundest advice I got that evening was to go to a certain office on campus and have it file a 1-S student deferment request with the Selective Service System until I finished my school year in May of 1967. I did this the following day and then started to consider which branch of the service I would join after my deferment expired in May.

Notifying My Draft Board about Graduate School Acceptance


Vietnam War Protestors 1967-1972

Why I Chose The U.S. Navy for Enlistment

Since I was doing graduate work in chemistry, I initially thought about enlisting in the Army and going into the Chemical Corps as an officer after completing Officer Candidate School (OCS). I went to an Army recruiter in Ann Arbor, and he transported me to the Fort Wayne Army Base in Detroit for induction processing. Right before signing the final papers to join, I called the whole enlistment off to the chagrin of the Army recruiter. Why? The night before, I had been quartered in a barracks with other prospective Army enlistees. I couldn't sleep at all that night after hearing the joke about the life expectancy of a second lieutenant in Vietnam being 20 seconds! I decided at that point it would be suicide for me to enlist in the Army.

After returning to campus and talking to my roommates, someone suggested that joining the Navy wasn't too bad based on the experiences of his friend. I thought it over and then made a final decision to enlist in the Navy. I figured that the basic training would be easier than in the Army or Air Force and that my chances of being sent to Vietnam would be the least while in the Navy.

How I Enlisted in The Navy

During Christmas vacation in 1966, I returned to my home in Wisconsin and visited a Navy recruiter in Racine. After telling the recruiter that I wanted to enlist as a non-officer, he informed me that I would have to get on a waiting list and enlist first in the Navy Reserves. As a reservist, I would be able to get into a program where I would report for four years of active duty 120 days after being sworn into the service as a reservist. The earliest date I could enlist in the Navy Reserves was February 16, 1967, so I went back to Ann Arbor to continue my studies.

On February 15, I left Ann Arbor by bus and traveled to Racine where I would enlist the next morning. It seemed like the trip was made during the coldest day of the winter. After spending a night in the YMCA, I signed my enlistment papers and was now only 120 days from beginning Navy recruit basic training.

On June 15, I would be leaving the academic world and embarking on a new journey that would change my outlook on life. My Navy recruit basic training at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago will be detailed in a future article.

Notice to Report for Navy Reserve Induction


Enlisting in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on April 12, 2020:

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Yes, at the time of the draft in the 1960s during the Vietnam War, many Americans didn't want to join and became draft dodgers. Some of them fled to Canada and stayed there until President Carter gave them a pardon and clemency in 1977.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on April 12, 2020:

Very interesting. At that time the US had the draft, maybe many didn't want to join. But you have given a fascinating account of that period.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on April 12, 2020:

I just sent an email to your Hotmail address about Rick and Dan.

Jim Valk on April 11, 2020:

I met Rick once by coincidence. I was in the Kings Club one evening next to the Kings Hotel at the corner of Chungshan N. Rd. and Minchuan W. Rd.

There were some guys in there and I heard the name Damerville. I introduced myself, had a beer, and that was the last I saw of him.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on April 11, 2020:

I knew Rick very well and also met Dan before I left Taiwan in March 1970. I will tell you more about them when I email to your yahoo address.

Jim Valk on April 09, 2020:


The guy that urged me to go to Taiwan was Dan (Danny) Damerville. He was an 'R' brancher. He had a brother named Rick (Ricky) that was maybe an 'O' brancher also serving on Taiwan during that time period, but he was located downtown at TDC (Taiwan Defense Command) up around the corner from the East HSA compound.

I tracked Danny down years later. I think he spent 4 to 6 years in the Navy and when he got out continued his education to a PHD and was a Literature Professor in Florida. I forget which school. His brother Ricky earned a JD after leaving the Navy and last I heard was a Deputy Prosecutor in the state of Hawaii.

When I got out, I went back to school compliments of the VA, earned a BS Industrial Technology and an MBA from the same University that I flunked out of in 1968.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on April 09, 2020:

Hi, Jim! Yes, it does look like we took similar routes in getting into the Navy. You know, when I went through Navy testing at the beginning of training, I listed medical corpsman as one of my choices, too. Like a naive fool, I never realized what that could lead to. Fortunately, the Navy saw I had an aptitude for learning languages and assigned me to DLI to learn Chinese. What was the name of the Navy guy from ShuLinKou at Pensacola who told you about LinKou duty? Maybe I worked with him in 1969. I heard some stories about Olongapo and agree that I would have had a better time there than at Hakata in Japan. Isn't it amazing that back then the worst we had to worry about was getting syphilis? Getting the clap or shot down was a given but it could easily be cleared up with penicillin shots or tetracycline tablets which you could easily get in drug stores. Thanks for the memories.

Jim Valk on April 08, 2020:

Hey Paul, Jim here from your Shu Linkou page. Seems we took similar paths. My high school advisor recommended that I should pursuit a degree in engineering. Having earned an academic scholarship in my home state I enrolled at a local state university in 1967. I may have had the aptitude for engineering, but I wasn't mature enough for college and by the end of the spring semester 1968 the school un-invited me to return. I enrolled in a Junior college hoping to maintain my student deferment, but during the spring semester of 1969 I received my induction physical notice. I was able to defer induction until the end of that semester and in the meantime enlisted in the Navy Reserve on my 20th birthday 1969. The reserve program I enlisted in was one year of weekly drills while completing boot camp and a training cruise. Then 2 years of active duty, followed by 2 more years of weekly reserve drills. The stipulation was that the only way they would let me enlist was to agree to become a corpsman. I didn't know what that was and didn't care so I signed up. Then I found out what a corpsman was, and that the Marines didn't have their own medics, and that a '2 year wonder' reserve corpsman were prime meat to get orders for Vietnam. Fortunately I was able to switch rates when my reserve center started a Navy Security Group program. I passed a Morse Code test and got sent to NCTC Pensacola when reporting for active duty. Graduated at the top of my class and got my choice of duty stations. I played flag football at Pensacola, and a guy on my team was an E5 back at Pensacola for HFDF school. He had just returned from 15 months at Shu Linkou and based on what he told me I made that my first choice. 2nd choice was NAVCOMSTA Philippines. I loved Taiwan, but an 'opportunity' came up to take a 180 day TAD to the Philippines which included a stint at NSG Det Bravo Vietnam. It only lasted 2 months and I never got to Vietnam. I received most of the 180 day per diem pay up front. When I got back to Taiwan the disbursement office determined that I had been overpaid by $64 and they wanted it back. Of course I had spent it all, most of it in Taipei the night before I departed for the P.I. and the remainder the night of my triumphant return to Taipei. I read your TAD to Japan page and think that I probably had a better time in San Miguel Rep. of the Philippines. Made a few trips down to Subic Bay and Olongapo …

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on January 05, 2015:

Kathleen, thanks for reading and sharing your experiences related to the draft. I was tempted to stay in the Navy for another tour, but really didn't like having to shine my shoes every day and pass personnel and barracks inspections. The travel and training was great, however.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on January 05, 2015:

I remember those days as I had a brother who was draft-eligible, but drew a high number. His range of emotions were similar to yours. My husband also drew a high number but was already headed to West Point by the end of the draft, then Vietnam ended during his junior year. His 20 years of service were primarily during peace-time when we had a large, well-equipped military. After 13 years of non-stop war you'd think someone would notice the connection. Thank you for your service.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on July 18, 2013:


Thanks for reading and commenting on this about my youth. It certainly was a turbulent time after I graduated from college. Thanks for the votes and sharing this hub.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on July 15, 2013:

Interesting read, Paul and life is full of twists and turns we are not aware of.

Voted up and interesting. Shared as well.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on March 29, 2012:

I really would like to share this with anyone interested in this turbulent time of my life.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on March 29, 2012:

LOL You should share that story! :)

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on March 28, 2012:

Thanks for reading and the comments, Denise. You know, when I joined the Navy, I couldn't swim either. That ordeal would be a hub in itself.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on March 28, 2012:

Loved the recount, Paul. It brought back so many memories of friends, family members and my late husband's experience being recruited.

Although I had to older brothers my eldest brother was a pacifist and registered as a CO (he had attended a seminar in Ohio throughout his high school years); my second oldest brother, Michael, was the first to join the navy out of h.s. and toured Nam and the Pacific. I'm still in touch with his buddy who is living in CA. My sister (younger than me)joined about two years after being out of h.s. and feeling her life was a dead end factory job. I've got tons of Uncles and cousins who also served in the Navy.

Then, I met my second husband after my divorce and he told me the story of how he got his draft notice and didn't want to take the chance of being drafted into the army so he joined the Navy even though he didn't know how to swim at the time...needless to say, he did learn!

Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

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